Fri, September 20, 2013

Canadians hard-pressed to win Olympic gold

Medal count solid but could be shut out from top of podium

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Canada's Roseline Filion (R) and Meaghan Benfeito hold their bronze medals during the women's synchronised 10m platform victory ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 31, 2012.

LONDON - There is plenty of bronze that has been taken out of the reclaimed East London wasteland that has been transformed into the Olympic Park.

And out near Windsor Castle in ritzy Eton, Dorney Canadians have mined themselves some silver.

But is there gold to be found among any of the venues — historic or otherwise - as the Games roll along towards the midway point?

A nice run on the lesser medals continued on Thursday when the Canadian women’s eight scullers powered to silver out at Eton as the overall team’s performance continues to trend in the right direction.

A total of seven medals overall through the first six days is respectable enough given that four years ago in China, the first one didn’t come until the Games were eight days old. By the Canadian Olympic Committee’s goal (and method of scorekeeping), the Games are a success so far as the country sits 11th in the overall medal count, just inside the hope for a top 12 performance.

The trouble is that most of the rest of the world doesn’t use the same scoring system. The overall Olympic champion is not the one that wins the most medals, but the one that wins the most events. And really, shouldn’te the feel-good love-in a nation has for its medals should come in degrees?

In their effort to become more of a player in the Summer Games, the COC through its partnership with the Own The Podium program is targetting medals of any colour.

Eventually it will have to move more towards aiming for the top of the program, but the process has to begin somewhere.

There’s nothing to take away from any of the medals Canada has already won here, it’s just that winning a gold or three would make the count that much more impressive.

In fairness, so far we haven’t had a true gold-medal contender fail and in fact, many of the seven collected so far have been true to form.

The pair of rowing silvers in the men’s and women’s eights were as good as our crews could have done given that the German and U.S. boats were huge favourites in their respective events. In fact, it can be argued that the men’s eight over-achieved by passing the British boat late to claim silver.

Similarly, the two bronze medals from women’s synchro diving were pretty much according to form - and in each, there was no catching the dominating Chinese pairs.

Wednesday night at the Aquatic Centre, Canada’s fastest man in the pool had the race of his life to win a bronze medal in the men’s 100-metre freestyle, an event he was considered to have an outside shot.

With the Games still young and scores of medal events still to come, it’s far too early to predict a gold shutout, which would be a Canadian first since the embarrassment of Montreal in 1976 when the best the host nation could manage was a silver.

That said, where is it going to come from?

Will it be Oakville kayaker Adam van Koeverden, arguably the best shot, when he contests the men’s 1,000-metre kayak event next week at Eton, Dorney? AVK is the favourite in his event, but we’d like his prospects even better if canoe-kayak’s governing body hadn’t decided to take the 500-metre event — van Koeverden’s strongest — out of the Games.

Perhaps Catharine Pendrel will be the ticket. The cross-country mountain biker comes into the Games as the No. 1 ranked woman in the world and will be looking to jump way up from the fourth-place finish in Beijing.

Or how about boxer Mary Spencer in the women’s debut of her sport? After all, we tend to do well in events making their Olympic debut.

The point is not that there aren’t plenty of medal chances still waiting for Canadians, it’s just that there isn’t any clear cut golden ones that jump out. Typically in the Summer Games, Canadians win between three and four gold with one or two inevitably coming as mild surprises. Simon Whitfield certainly shocked the nation in 2000 when he was an unlikely winner of the men’s triathlon in Sydney, Australia.

In Athens, van Koeverden was certainly considered world class but not a gold medal favourite when he visited the top of the podium.

Of the three Canadian gold medallists from Beijing, none are considered favoured to repeat here. The men’s eight is already done and will take a silver back to the boathouse while Eric Lamaze isn’t expected to repeat in his equestrian event because his horse is too young. If wrestler Carol Huynh repeated, that too would be a surprise.

So how bad would it be if the unthinkable happens and Canada gets shut out from gold?

It all depends on how you fancy keeping score. The majority of countries tabulated it differently than the Canadians have forever - when golds come as rarely as they do, it’s a form of rationalization.

When the women’s eight won their silver, it put them into 11th place in overall medals, a positioning that offers a sense of accompishment at this point of the Games. But in the official London 2012 standings, Canada was ranked 25th - behind all nations that had at least one gold. If the Canadians had one, however, they would jump up into 15th place on the list.

Ultimately, that’s as it should be, of course. Nothing wrong with celebrating silver and bronze, but there’s no replacing the first golden moment of any Olympic Games.

Patiently — for now — Canada is waiting.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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